John McLaughlin/Chick Corea: Five Peace Band, Montreal, Canada, April 28, 2009
As on his 2007 tour with his 4th Dimension group, recently documented on Live @ Belgrade (Abstract Logix, 2009) DVD, McLaughlin blended staggering and seemingly endless ideas at high speed with increased use of harmonics and whammy bar bends. Despite his often unparalleled speed and blinding virtuosity, McLaughlin has been waxing more lyrical in recent years, and his gritty yet motif-centric solo on "New Blues, Old Bruise" was a highlight of the evening. McLaughlin also proved himself to be the outstanding rhythm guitarist he's rarely thought of, with distinctive voicings and chunky rhythms working in tandem with McBride and Blade throughout the set.
As much as Blade brought a greater sense of freedom to the group, it seemed as though Corea responded to the drummer's expansive approach more fervently than anyone else in the group. His solo piano work on "The Disguise" and especially "Hymn to Andromeda" was as abstract as anything he's done. For a pianist who has aimed at accessibility for most of his career, he appears to be moving back to greater abandon, pushing the group in completely unexpected directions. On synth, as with his Return to Forever reunion tour in 2008, Corea demonstrated a broader palette that referenced some of his '70s tones but also looked forward with more unfamiliar textures.
With a first set consisting of only three tunes in approximately 70 minutes, and a second set running over 75 minutes with only two tunes, it's no surprise that when the group was called back for its encore, it played a more abbreviated version of "In a Silent Way/It's About That Time," from Miles Davis' In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969) than that on the live album. Still, it went from abstract lyricismwith Corea's piano and synth perfectly complementing McLaughlin's poignant themeto unrelenting pulse, as the group coalesced around its straightforward groove to, once again, open the tune up to greater possibilities than Corea and McLaughlin might have considered when they played it with Davis 40 years ago.
With standing ovations throughout the evening it was clear that, despite its freer approach to the material, the audience remained with the group throughout the journey. Montreal has always had one of the most receptive and open-minded audiences in the world, and while there may have been some disappointed fusion-heads, Corea, McLaughlin and Five Peace Band put on a more than memorable performance, making it clear that, in the best improvisational situations, expectations and stylistic rules are meant to be broken, not adhered to.
John R. Fowler